By Robin Gomes
Myanmar’s prominent Catholic Church leader has appealed to the government to scrap the constitutional provision which prohibits members of religious orders from voting in elections.
Cardinal Charles Bo lamented Article 392(a) of the constitution that prohibits Buddhist monks and nuns, Catholic priests, nuns and religious, other Christian clergy, Muslim clerics and others from the right to vote.
In a written appeal released on Thursday, Archbishop of Yangon appealed to the government of Myanmar to change.
Voting, a “Sacred duty”
“As a cardinal, I can make statements and speeches and encourage citizens to vote,” he said but pointed to the irony that he himself is “barred from voting”. “This is an extremely unusual arrangement. I am not aware of any other democracy in which this is a requirement,” he said.
Cardinal Bo’s statement comes in view of the general elections, expected in late 2020, as the Southeast Asian nation is in transition to democracy after decades of military rule.
Describing voting as “a sacred duty” and “a sacred pilgrimage of human dignity” of the people of Myanmar, he warned that “those who shirk this sacred responsibility do at their own peril”.
For the people of Myanmar, he said, voting is “a sacred pilgrimage in this golden land to strengthen their human dignity and common good”.
Cardinal Bo, who is also president of the Confederation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC), said that as a religious leader, it was not his duty to identify parties or leaders to support.
“But as a country soaked in a great religious tradition and where religious leaders serve as moral guides,” he stressed, “it is the duty of every religious leader to encourage all citizens to vote for the leader and party of their choice based on values.”
The 71-year-old cardinal noted that with the transition to democracy in Myanmar in 2010, power returned to the people after long decades. The “enthusiastic participation of our people in elections, candidly showed our hunger for a robust democracy,” though with mixed results over the last 5 years. He said that with patience, “people need to invest their faith in democracy through vigorous participation in the next election”.
Cardinal Bo called for defending the country’s democracy, saying it came at a great personal price of many gallant men, women and the founding fathers who “shed their blood to ensure our freedom”.
Human dignity and rights
Cardinal Bo pointed out that democracy is built on “human dignity, articulated in the promotion and protection of human rights – right to life, right to livelihood, right to education, right to religion, right to language, right to land etc”.
“The option for the poorest and most vulnerable,” he said, “is welded into the human rights discourse” and called for the defence of “human dignity from womb to tomb”.
The Archbishop of Yangon, however, noted that there are many challenges facing the country. He described Myanmar as a nation wounded by 60 years of war and mutilated by mutual hatred, where thousands of people are displaced within the country.
Underscoring that “human development is the new name for justice”, he reminded leaders that 60 per cent of the population, who are below the age of 40, can work wonders if given opportunities and jobs. Nearly 4 million Myanmar youth who are in modern forms of slavery in nearby countries, need to be brought back.
In this regard, he called for quality education and opportunities for young people.
“Peace is the only way, peace is possible,” he stressed, pointing out that this cannot be possible without justice. “Those who will bring enduring peace based on justice removing all discriminations,” he said, “would be doing historic good to this nation.” (Source: UCANEWS)